I work in a haunted bookstore
If you’ve ever been downtown, you may have seen a small building sandwiched between what use to be the courthouse and an abandoned storage unit. Yeah, well, it’s a second-hand bookstore called The Printing Press. The sign above the door is too faded to read, though, so everyone calls it Dalton’s. Jerry Dalton is the owner, a sixty-two year old chain-smoker from Tennessee.
Nevertheless, If you came inside, you’d notice how cramped the space is. There are books on tables, on shelves, in corners, and even on window stools. Then there’s the musty smell of old books, and I mean old books. I swear some of these books must’ve been around when Jefferson was in office. That’s how the store manages to get enough business to stay afloat. The books are damn near antique, the kind no other store has.
And finally, you’d most likely see a tall and thin woman in her twenties with black hair covering her ears and a completion so pale, you can’t look at her for very long. Yeah, that’s me. The name’s Chloe. I’ve been working there since high school, and I don’t see myself calling it quits anytime soon. If there’s one thing that’s scarce around here, it’s help.
We use to have about eight employees, but one by one they stopped coming into work, and one by one, we found their mutilated bodies at random places in the store, except for Kim. A customer found her severed head on the occult shelf and thought it was a Halloween decoration.
I told Jerry multiple times to hire a paranormal investigator, but he calls me paranoid. He said there are no haunted places, and that it’s all superstition. When I heard those words, I looked at him confusedly.
“Alright,” said I, “I’ll give you that, but what about God and Jesus and heaven and hell? You talk about that stuff constantly. How is that any different than believing in wayward spirits?” He told me to get back to work.
But this isn’t about Jerry. No, this story happened a week ago. It was about six o’clock, if I remember correctly. I was at the front desk updating inventory into the computer when I heard a thud upstairs. Max was upstairs shelving books at the time.
“You alright, Max?” I hollered. There was no response. I shrugged it off at Max dropping a box of books and thoughts no more about it. That is, until I heard another several loud thuds. I sighed deeply and trudged upstairs.
I found Max on a stool putting up a couple books on the top shelf. A box of books was on the cart next to him.
“What the hell?” I asked, rolling my eyes.
“’what the hell’ what?” he replied, his brow furrowing.
“Those loud noises,” I answered.
“What loud noises?”
I looked deep into his eyes. He slowly got down from the stool, took out three more books, and shoved them on the middle shelf. We didn’t break eye contact the whole time.
I voluntarily coughed to break the silent. “Alright, just be careful. We don’t want employees with broken bones.” I turned around and walked back downstairs. Max was one of those guys who hated to be supervised. He almost never talked to Jerry and didn’t come to the monthly business meetings. I didn’t know him well, in other words. Jerry didn’t say anything about Max, though. Jerry was lenient, perhaps overly so.
When I got back to the front desk, I heard another three or four thuds. I rubbed my temples, and did my best to forget about it. By this point, it must’ve been six-thirty. The store was silent for the next thirty minutes, which was enough time to finish inventory. Then I decided I’d walk around the store and straighten up the merchandise. I did that for another fifteen minutes. That’s when I heard six louder thuds followed by a high-pitched scream. It felt like my ears exploded.
“Max?! Max!!” I yelled as I jogged upstairs. But when I got to where Max had been earlier, he was gone. The box on top of the cart and the stool were exactly where I last saw them, though. I searched the upstairs, and couldn’t find him. Then I went downstairs-he wasn’t there-and finally to the parking lot out back; his car was still parked in its usual spot.
Now, I was puzzled. Max may have been anti-social, but he hadn’t left work without alerting Jerry or me. He wasn’t that kind of employee. So, since I couldn’t leave the store unattended, I did the next best thing: I called his cellphone. He didn’t answer. At that, I called Jerry, who wasn’t at the store at the time.
“Yellow?” He asked in his usual southern drawl.
“Jerry, thank God I got in touch with you. Max has gone missing. What should I do?” My shaky voice stammered into the phone.
“Eh, I’d say wait for ‘em to turn up. You’ll find ‘em eventually.”
“Yeah, I’ll find him dead! Maybe I should call the police, or maybe I should-”
“Chloe!” snapped Jerry, “For the love of Jesus Christ inside us all, please shut your mouth. Everything’ll be fine!”
“Oh absolutely!” I retorted, “Everything went fine for Edgar and Kim and Lauren, must I go on?”
Jerry growled. “Chloe, accidents happen, you know?”
“Seven accidents in a short time span??!!!”
“It’s possible, Chloe. Now please, don’t start yapping about the supernatural again! I’ve gotta go. The church dinner won’t be cooked by itself. And don’t forget to lock up at closing time!” Then he hung up on me. I tossed my phone onto the desk, cursing Jerry for being so clueless and cursing myself for my powerlessness. What was I to do? After all, for all I knew, I was going to be the next victim!
I decided, since there was no customer in sight, to go upstairs and look much more thoroughly. Out of caution, I walked up the stairs very slowly and quietly, occasionally calling out for Max in a soft voice. But I’m not sure why I bothered with all that. Ghosts can see you after all, even if you can’t see them. But I couldn’t be sure it was a ghost. A vampire maybe? No, no, none of the victims had punctured necks. What about a werewolf? No, that can’t be it either. You’d think I might’ve found some hair scattered around.
My mind was functioning at a million miles a minute with dozens of other possibilities, but none of them seemed to make any sense with what I knew. So, I tried to put it out of my mind and looked for signs of Max. I checked the windows: they were all still locked. I looked at the hardwood floor carefully for any scratches or signs of a struggle. I couldn’t find any.
That’s when I heard the thuds again. I jumped, but stayed as quiet as possible. The thuds seemed to be coming from above the ceiling. Above the ceiling, I thought to myself, I don’t think there’s anything up there but mice. And yet, those thuds could not be made by a mouse.
I tip-toed back downstairs to look for Jerry’s crowbar. I did my best not to mess with too much stuff in his office. I didn’t want him to know I’d been looking around. He always told the employees to stay out of his office, but this was an emergency.
The crowbar, it turns out, was in his liqueur cabinet. I was a little disturbed at that, but this wasn’t the time to psychoanalyze Jerry. I needed to look for Max, and at the very least, figure out what’s making that sound I’ve been hearing all evening. I think it was seven-thirty by then.
When I got back upstairs, I stood there in the same spot I’d heard the thuds. I couldn’t hear them anymore, but I knew all I needed to do was wait. I waited like a cheetah stalking a gazelle. My whole body was drenched in sweat, and I felt very gross, but that was only a small price to pay if I could find Max.
The thuds finally came, and they were directly above my head. I got Max’s stool, stood on it and used the crowbar with unprecedented ease. I guess it’s hard to know what you can do when you’re pee-your-pants scared. I took the ceiling tile off methodically so i didn’t damage it, and slow enough so I could grab it with my hands and set it on the floor.
I stood on the stool just staring at the newly-made hole in the ceiling. I don’t know if I was scared or just questioning what I was doing in the first place. Sometimes I wonder if I had any idea what I was looking for, because I sure don’t in retrospect. I guess I was on edge. My breathing was heavy though silent, and I even felt a little nauseous.
Anyway, I finally got the nerve to look into the ceiling’s hole. It was, as you’d expect, pitch black, and I could barely see anything. I shrugged my shoulders in relief. But when I turned around to look at the other side, I was greeted by the most frightening thing I’d ever seen.
I screamed louder than I thought was humanly possible, and tumbled off the stool and crashed onto the floor. I was so petrified that I was stuck lying in that spot. I stared up at the hole once more. I was certain I was startled by a human face, a very disgusting and deformed human face, but before I could meditate it, a few more thuds echoed from the hole. Then I heard the sound of something being dragged slowly and purposefully. As is my usual procedure in such scenarios, I closed my eyes and mumbled about wanting my mommy.
My eyes involuntarily opened when I heard some large object dropped on the floor next to me. If I thought my scream before was loud, my second scream topped that by several decibels. I crawled backwards until I hit a wall. I was in denial of what I was seeing: it was Max. Well, or what was left of Max, anyway. Half of his face was just muscle and bone, and his chest cavity was entirely ripped open. The body was also missing a leg, his right leg. The rest of his body had numerous bite marks, scratches, and cuts.
The culprit soon dropped down. This time, I didn’t scream. I was too shocked. The creature’s face looked human, except its nose was flat. The ears were pointed and the eyes were large and with diamond-shaped pupils. Its mouth was full of very sharp teeth. The body was also very human with long arms and legs, except it was crouched like a cat. The skin was a light blue, and it had wings folded at its side.
Our eyes met and my heart skipped two or three beats, and I almost forgot to breathe. It stood on its hind legs and started walking towards me while its tongue twitched and it cried out like a hawk. I was thinking about all the people that’d be at my funeral and the list was, I confess, quite short. I was too much of a workaholic to have a boyfriend, and I was an only child. There was my dad, an uncle, and my maternal grandmother. Oh, and my cousin who’s ten times hotter than me and I hate her. You have some pretty strange thoughts you have when you think you’re about to die.
But then I remembered the mace I had in my pocket, and I thought, oh wait, I don’t want to die! I waited until the creature’s face was inches from mine, and I sprayed it like my life was dependent on it, because it kinda was. And I always thought mace was made for muggers. I should market some monster-specific mace. I bet I’d make a killing, but I got a C-minus in high school chemistry. Oh well, a girl can dream.
Where was I? Oh yes, the mace. The creature howled in irritation as it shook its head, which gave me enough time to rush downstairs. I pushed books behind me as I ran in the hopes of creating obstacles. I looked behind me and saw the creature quickly jumping onto walls to try to pounce on me. I was heading towards the door, until I felt something grab my leg and I hit the floor. I looked behind me, and saw the creature’s spindly fingers around my ankles. It hissed at me and bent over to try to start chowing down.
Instinctually, I swung my hand and knocked it across the head. It fell over in pain. I suddenly backtracked upstairs, remembering the crowbar. I grabbed it and hid behind a bookcase. I knew that wouldn’t last long, but there was nowhere else to go.
I heard the familiar thuds, and soon saw the thing above me upside down on the ceiling. It lunged, and I ran out of the way. It slammed into the bookcase which fell sideways and crashed into the next bookcase, which did the same like several dominos. I was almost crushed.
The creature at this point was furious. I hid behind one of the bookcase that wasn’t toppled over. When all I heard was silence for about thirty seconds, I slowly tiptoed forward and peeked around the corner. The creature was there, and he spit some green mush at me. I ducked-thankfully-and saw the mush hit the wall. It bled right through the wall in seconds.
I had to climb over bookcases to get back to the stairs, the creature spitting in my direction and creating holes in everything from the floor to the fallen bookcases. I was trying to rationally understand what to do, but I couldn’t think at all. All that was active at that point was the lizard brain, which said I had to fight him off.
I finally reached the front door, but I didn’t rush outside as was my original plan. I slowly turned around to see the creature standing feet from me. It took a step forward, and I swung the crowbar like a baseball bat. It slapped the creature, which jumped in the air, flapping its wings violently. I slid underneath it and hit it again on the back of the head.
Unexpectedly, the creature grabbed my arm, and bit deep into it. I cried in agony, but used my good arm to start punching it in the head. When it let go, I kicked it with my foot which caused it to fall onto its stomach. My arm was bleeding like a waterfall, but I couldn’t do anything about it. The odd thing is that I didn’t even feel the pain in that moment. Maybe it was the adrenalin.
“I’m done with you,” I said to the creature, but really I was saying it more to myself because I doubt the creature understood English. The creature got on all four legs and started flapping its wings again until it was in the air in front of me. It let out a loud noise before coming at me. I jumped right at it, and plunged the crowbar right into its left eye. The creature fell to the ground, its wing trying to cover the wound. I got on my knees, gave it one final look before finding the crowbar a home in its heart. The creature immediately stopped moving. I stood up, walked a few feet, and everything went black.
I woke up in a room with almost blinding florescent lights. When my vision managed to focus, I realized I was in a comfortable bed with an IV in one arm and heavy bandaging on the other. My eyes started darting around, and I saw Jerry sitting in a chair near the end of the bed. He was looking at some trashy magazine. When he realized I woke up, he threw the magazine across the room.
“I wasn’t reading that magazine!” Jerry whined, “I was just-I mean-it’s just that-don’t judge me, Chloe!!!”
My head was throbbing. “What-where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital. A customer walked in around eight-thirty last night, and found you unconscious on the floor with books all over the place.” He explained.
When he said that, all the memories came flooding back over me. I sat up. “J-Jerry, I found Max’s body and there was this humanoid-bat like creature and I-”
“Hush, Chloe. You need to rest-you lost a lot of blood. I don’t know how in the world you made such a mess, but you’re currently my only employee, so it’s not like I’m gonna fire you or anything.”
“What about Max?” I questioned. “You didn’t find his body? What about the bat creature?”
“Chloe, please, hold on one sec. I was there and a customer was there and even a couple policemen were there. We checked the entire place, and we saw no Max and of course we didn’t find any bat-creatures. You need to stop reading those horror stories. Oh, and don’t think it’s just me here. I called your dad. He’s been here with me, but he just went to the bathroom a minute ago.”
I nodded and let my head hit the pillow. I decided that I shouldn’t argue with Jerry when I was recovering. Thankfully, my injury wasn’t that bad and I was out of the hospital the next day. But I didn’t go back to work for a couple days. Jerry almost never gave me vacation time, so I gladly took it when he offered.
Anyway, that’s it for this story. There are plenty more because The Printing Press seems to attract everything from aliens to sentient robots. But I’m writing this on my lunch break, and it’s about time to get back to work. Besides, there’s some girl floating around the store moaning something about Satan rising again, so I should probably go check that out. Plus, we just got a new shipment of books that needs to be sorted, so I’ll talk to you later.